I stood shivering in the cold chamber, trying to warm myself over a brazier of coals as we awaited the girl. At time like this, before a task begins, I often find myself in an introspective mood, and so my assistants were left to their own devices as I stared into the coals, the hulking German outlander idly examining a series of heavy knives, while the pale skinned scribe read through both the book of the law and the kings sentence we were charged with. Eventually the scribe spoke. "I am at a loss as to how to proceed," he announced. "The law states that she is to be given a chance to confess and repent after both the first and the second degree. But here," he stated, indicating the sentence, "it is made clear that she is to be tortured to death."
"Fuck the law" was the response from the outlander. "We're here to tear her to pieces." The two began squabbling until, train of thought broken, I turned to them and silenced them both. "Enough. Her crimes go beyond repentance, and the hardships she must have endured facing our army will count as greater than the first or second degree. We will proceed as instructed."
The scribe opened his mouth to disagree, but fortunately I was spared the tedium of listening to him by sounds from the passageway. Muffled girlish cries and the uneven clank of metal shod feet announced the arrival of the princess, fighting like a wildcat, held by two of the kings guard, red-faced and short of breath after the exertion of dragging her here. Panting, breasts rising and falling beneath the white silk of her dress, she surveyed the room with a fearful expression, quailing as she imagined each of the instruments there assaulting her soft form.
"At last" I muttered, glad to be able to concentrate on something other than the inanities of law, and then spoke louder, so that the guards may hear me. "Put her on the rack." She wailed as they dragged her over to the great oak machine in the center of the room, kicking and clawing at the guards armor. They lifted her on to the base of the rack like a sack of potatoes, and one pinned her torso while the other tied stout ropes around her wrists, but as he moved to her legs, she kicked out, catching him solidly on the chin. The outlander roared in laughter as the guard dropped to the floor stunned, and then moved in, taking a leg in each hand as the remaining guard tied ropes to her ankles.
The felled guard clambered to his feet, leaning on his fellow for support, and the two of them turned their eyes to the princess, lust and anger mixed in their eyes. Not sure whether to run their hands over her restrained body, or sink their fists into her stomach in retribution, I dismissed them before they do either. Anger or no, it would not be proper for anyone to cause pain in this dungeon other than myself or my assistants.
As they left, she looked to us. "I'll not answer anything," she said bravely, though her expression and trembling betrayed her. "You're not wrong," grinned the outlander, but she just stared at him, for he has spoken in his native tongue and she didn't understand. Rather than enlighten her, I moved to the wheel of the rack, and began to take in the slack on the ropes. As she felt her limbs begin to move, she looked around desperately, perhaps hoping for some figure to leap out of a dark corner and save her, but none appeared, and the remorseless click, click, click or the racks ratchet continued.
Once I was satisfied with the tension, I paused out of habit, for this is traditionally where the questioning begins, as fear of agony often loosens the tongue more than agony itself. Indeed, the scribe leapt up, ready to record a confession, before he caught my glance and settled back down again. I look down at the princess, and was startled to see tears leak out of the corner of her eyes - though the tension is no more than that of an early morning stretch as one arises from bed, fear was already inflicting greater tortures than I ever could. Unable to move, hand and feet apart, her sense of vulnerability must have been overwhelming. Shrugging, I bunched my shoulders over the wheel, and prepared to begin the torture.
I tried to get free of the guard's iron grip on my wrists and arms, but the more I struggled, the tighter he held me, ignoring my cries as his hard fingers dug into my flesh. I had not been told where I was being taken, but I could guess, and the thought made me sick with fear - I was being taken from my cell, but not upwards to the castle. I was being taken down, and below every dungeon there is always a torture chamber.
Moments later my half-imagined terrors I had seen in my mind became a terrible reality. I was pushed forward into a large chamber, lit by the glow of torches set about the walls. In the middle of the room stood a massive wooden rack, the ropes at either end awaiting their victim.
A tall, muscular man stood by a table to one side, toying with the long, wicked looking knives lying on it. Another man stood by a brazier of coals, a selection of irons close by, as well as a variety of delicate pliers, pincers and other objects I couldn't even begin to name.
Other devices were hung about the shadowed walls, and I shrank back in terror as the full horror of my situation hit me - the thought of any one of these terrible creations being used on me almost made me swoon.
The man by the brazier looked to the guards that held me. "Put her on the rack."
I cried out in fear as they hauled me over to the waiting rack, but for all my wild struggles, I was no match for their strength, and in an instant I had been lifted off my feet and thrown down onto the rack. One guard leaned across me, putting his full weight across my chest, preventing me from escaping. I felt the rough hand of second guard seize my left wrist, and swiftly tie one rope about it. Before I could try and get my right arm away from him, it too was grabbed and fastened to a rope. I did all I could to try and throw the first guard off from me, and as I felt his comrade reach for my legs, desperation gave me the strength to lash out, and my unsighted kick caught the guard hard enough to make him release my legs, though the man pinning me to the rack blocked my view.
I heard the second guard hit the floor hard, and a bellow of laughter came from one of the others in the room, and a moment later another pair of hands had taken hold of my legs. The man holding me down released the pressure on me, and before I could gather myself for another kick, he had the two ropes at the base of the rack tied tightly round my ankles.
I tried to use what little slack there was in the ropes to see if there was any way of freeing myself, and barely noticed the guard I had struck stumble to his feet. I heard the man who appeared to be the Torture Master order them to leave, and I froze. This was where it would begin.
I tried to calm myself. Although my country had been over-run, and my army defeated, there were still enough survivors to pose a threat to my enemies. Surely this would be the first thing they questioned me about. I forced myself to look the Torture Master straight in the eye, and summoned up more courage than I actually felt.
"I'll not answer anything," I said. The big, muscular assistant smiled at me, showing a mouthful of broken and missing teeth, and said something in a language I could not comprehend, although I guessed it was an assurance that I would be forced to talk eventually.
The Torture Master moved past me to the large wheel that was set at the top of the rack, and a moment later I heard the first click of the mechanism as he began to turn it. I was gripped with panic as I felt my arms and legs slowly pulled out straight, all the slack in the ropes being wound in by the roller above me. I glanced round the room, not really knowing what I was hoping to see – a means of escape, or someone to rescue me – but I knew that was impossible. The wheel continued to click, until my limbs were fully stretched, and the ropes were tight. I lay there panting, feeling the rough wood of the rack through the thin silk of my dress, and the cool, stale air of the dungeon flow over my outstretched body. I wiggled my fingers and toes, the only part apart from my head that I still had any control over, and even that was restricted to a few feeble twitches.
Suddenly the wheel stopped, and silence filled the chamber. Out of the corner of my eye I saw another man come to his feet clutching a scroll of paper and a quill, but then he sat again after glancing towards the top of the rack where the Torture Master stood. Fear finally overcame me completely, and I felt tears gather in my eyes. I knew I was about to suffer pain I had never even dreamed of, and yet I somehow had to endure it. If I answered any questions, then what little hope I and my land’s survivors had would be gone. They would be hunted down and killed, and my land would remain forever under the rule of my enemies. I managed to hold back my tears, but I felt sick as my mind pictured what lay in store for me in this terrible chamber. I felt so open and helpless, stretched out so tightly that I couldn't even tremble, only flex my fingers and toes as I awaited the pain to begin.
They say the most important skill a torturer can learn is to gauge the limits of those they practice their arts on, and as I looked down on the princess, I saw a mass of contradictions. Both hard and soft, she could crumble like dried mud or prove as resilient as granite. But her most dire enemy now, I saw, was herself. No matter what pain I inflicted, she would be imagining what dreadful torment was to come next, what torture I would inflict to raise the bar still further. Thus, as I begin the movement of the rack wheel, I did so as slow as I could manage.
The princess bore it stoically, not allowing herself the defeat of a scream as the rack's ratchet clicked into the first position of the torture. I let her keep her little victory, it meant little in the face of all that was to come. Glancing along the length of the rack and its victim, as now any clumsily tied knots or splintering wood would be obvious, I was struck by her beauty - the tension of the rack added definition to her already pleasing figure, which her thin dress did nothing to conceal. Doubtless, if the guards were still here, they'd be clamoring to rape her, which is precisely why I had excluded them. Letting prisoners think they are attractive, even in such a crude way, gave them something to cling to against the sea of pain.
A second gradual notch on the rack, and the princess moaned slightly, upper body beginning to lift off the base as her arms were pulled further away from her feet. The outlander gave me a disgusted look, and strode to the brazier, beginning to heat up an iron. He understood what I was doing, for he had good instincts, but he had clearly not developed the patience for it yet.
A third notch, and her breath fluttered, her eyes opening at this new pain. Her body shifted along the rack, her silk clothed body sliding over the rack polished by the writhings of countless victims, as her legs straightened to their fullest extent, buying her one last hollow reprieve before the pain began in earnest. She was in pain, certainly, her arms and legs pulling at their sockets, her back straighter than God intended, but we both knew that soon those joints would begin to move, arms beginning their slow journey away from the shoulders that housed them.
As I look to her face, realizing that she knew what to expect. I briefly pondered if this was intuition or familiarity with her father's own torture chamber, before dismissing it as irrelevant. A cause for more thought was whether to thwart her expectations, or allow the events to unfold, letting her have her first terrible experience of her joints failing. The decision was not hard, for I would normally have wound someone this far in seconds, and continued for minutes thereafter, and taking a firmer grip on the worn wood of the rack's wheel I tightened it up one more notch.
The rack creaked, and, as if to answer, so did the princess's shoulders as bone grated against bone, and the princess's breath whipped in, to be released as a shriek. Held tighter than she ever was before, she still briefly strained her muscles, trying to break free of the rack's embrace. Realizing that she was adding to her own pain, she eventually ceased, and started mumbling. Normally the scribe and I would be bent close, eager to hear what was said, but this situation was different, and the tone sounded defiant anyway. That said, I was done with the rack for a while, not wanting to spend it's novelty yet. I stepped back, and called for the outlander's attention. "You may proceed." He grinned at me, and pulled the iron from the brazier, and I was pleased to see that despite his impatience he had selected an iron with a delicate tip, rather than one of the bucket sized monsters he was so fond of.
The princess must have heard his footfalls as he approached the rack, for she turned her head to him, and wept at the sight of the smoking brand he held. With menacing slowness, he brought its head down, closer and closer to her body, while she begged and pleaded with him. Her voice went shrill as he brought it close to her face, dreading the thought of being blinded, and again when its tip came close to her breasts, feeling the heat on their sensitive skin though the thin material of her dress. However, the outlander had no intention of charring such inviting targets this early in the proceedings, and instead drew a slow thin line down the side of the princess, filling the chamber with the smell of burned silk and scorched flesh as the princess screamed.
He drew the iron back, and began to lean across so that he may place it between her legs. The prisoner was struck momentarily speechless by this prospect, and then began to beg again, while I returned to the rack wheel. The outlander thrust his iron down, burning neat holes in the dress between her legs, but not touching the princess underneath. He grinned, for this was his favorite joke, and while the princess lay gasping, not sure whether to be glad that the terrible act was not taken, or to dread that it must come eventually, I forced the wheel one more notch.
This pain was doubly unexpected for her, for not only had I come back to the rack while she was focusing on the outlander, the suddenness of this movement was a great contrast to the gentle, almost loving motions I had used with the rack before. At first she was too shocked to scream, and the only sound was the muffled pop of movement deep within her spine, and then she found her voice, and her pleas echoed around the chamber. It was almost as if a dam had broken inside her, for words poured out in a torrent, she begged us as god-fearing men to release her, she called for her father to save her, she threatened us with the remnants of her army, she cried for her nurse. And yet, in none of that did she at any time try and buy her freedom with information. Had I been interested in such matters, I would have been disappointed.
I motioned to the outlander that he should burn her again, but his swiftly heated iron had grown too cold, and we feared (and the scribe was quick to remind us) that to use it would risk opening wounds that it would not sear shut, and let the princess bleed to death. With a vile glare at the scribe, the outlander once again moved to heat his iron, while I walked to the table of knives. Having selected a hook-pointed blade, I turned, and regarded our prisoner thoughtfully.
I heard the ratchet click once, and felt the tension in my body increase. I swallowed hard, and tried to keep calm, but I felt short of breath, almost numb with fear. I closed my eyes again, and tried to block out the increasing discomfort I was feeling all along my body.
A second click came, and I felt the hard wood of the rack recede a little, and realized that my shoulders and back had been lifted ever so slightly off the surface of the device. In spite of my attempt to keep it in, a small moan escaped my lips as the tension was increased another small fraction. I heard the footsteps of one of the assistants as he moved away from the rack, but I kept my eyes closed, trying to fight the rising panic I felt.
The wheel was turned again, and I caught my breath as I felt the rack pull on my joints a little more. My whole body was taut now, held completely rigid between either end of the rack. I remembered one night as a child, when I had been woken by faint screams coming from the dungeons beneath my father's castle. My old nurse had tried to explain what it was, but I was too young to understand. Later, as I grew older, I came to learn what horrors were inflicted upon those unlucky enough to be condemned to the lower chamber. It was seldom that my father ever had need to call upon the skills of the tall, silent man who kept that dreadful place, but when our land and safety was threatened, then he would use all means possible to protect us. He had tried to convince me to observe one such session, to learn a little of the darker things a ruler must sometimes do in order to maintain the welfare of his domain. I always refused. I still remembered those screams I had heard as a child, and even though I knew the methods used, I had never seen them in action. But now the worst imaginings of my childhood had become an all too terrible reality. I knew how the rack worked, and now I was stretched helplessly on one. I knew that if I resisted whatever questioned they asked me, then in time my joints would be pulled so far as to be dragged from their sockets, a thought that made me sick with dread.
My thoughts were suddenly broken by another click of the wheel, and I felt two sharp stabs of pain in my shoulders, seeming to confirm my worst fears. I gasped, and let out an involuntary cry. I jerked unthinkingly against the ropes that held me, but the increased pain this caused brought home the helplessness of my situation. I tried to relax, as if such a thing were now possible, but my breathing was now heavy, and my mouth felt dry. I kept telling myself I wouldn't talk, repeating it over and over again. I didn't even realize that I was speaking this thought aloud, albeit very quietly. I heard the Torture Master call out an instruction to one of his men, and heard footsteps approaching the rack, probably the man who had moved away earlier, I guessed.
I turned my head to see what was happening, and caught sight of the hulking, gap-toothed man standing at the side of the rack. In his hand was an iron, tapering to a thin point that now glowed red hot. Suddenly the tears I had held back before came bursting forth again, just at the very thought of what the iron would feel like pressed against my flesh. With great care, the man moved the instrument closer and closer to me. "No!" I cried. "Don't! Don't! Don't! Please! "
He ignored my pleas, and moved the iron towards my head. I knew there was a method of blinding with hot irons, and that thought was now all that filled my head. "No! No! No!" I started screaming. "Take it away! Please! Take it away! Take it away!" At first I thought he had taken pity on me, but I quickly understood that he was merely selecting another target. The iron was withdrawn from my face, but now it made its way down towards my breasts. Fear, and the chill air of the dungeon had made my nipples stiffen, and now I could feel the heat of the iron through the thin silk that covered my swelling bosom, and I gasped and pleaded again. "No! Please! Stop! Stop! Don't! I beg you! Please!"
The heat receded, and I groaned, lying there gasping. Then suddenly I felt searing pain just below my right armpit. I screamed in agony, but the pain didn't lessen: it grew. It felt like a line of fire was being slowly traced down my right side. Just when it reached my hip, and I thought I couldn't endure anymore, it began to fade a little, and I realized the iron had been removed. I lay there moaning, my side still throbbing. I saw the man place one hand on the rack, then lean over me with the iron, this time its tip disappearing from view, although I knew exactly where it was going. Fear robbed me of my voice for a moment, but as I felt the heat between my legs, I found it again. "No! No! Please! Oh please! Don't! Don't! I beg you! Stop! Stop! Stop! Please! "
His arm thrust down and I shrieked in anticipation of the pain, but all I felt was the heat as the iron stabbed through the silk that was draped between my legs, missing my flesh by inches. Again he struck, and again, each time burning through my clothing, but never touching me. I saw him smile as I struggled to regain my breath. This was worse, far worse than anything I had imagined. The way they were toying with me, making the fear almost as dreadful as the agony itself. And they still hadn't asked me any questions.
Suddenly I heard the wheel at the top of the rack click another notch, and now the pain was sharper, stronger. I felt my spine pulled hard, and I couldn't even speak, only gasp. Then terror overtook shock, and I began to scream for them to stop. I gave no heed to what I said. All I knew was that I wanted release, wanted someone to free me from this nightmare. My father, my mother, my old nurse - it wasn't important. I needed someone to save me - anyone. I even tried to hold the fear of vengeance from my followers over them, but they just stood and waited for my babbling to subside.
As I lay there panting, I was suddenly aware that in spite of the all-consuming terror I had felt, I had never thought to offer to betray any secrets to them. For some reason, this made me feel a little swelling of pride, in spite of my still hopeless situation. But that feeling died the moment I saw the Torture Master give the signal to his assistant to use the iron on me again. Just as I was about to try and beg once more, the second assistant, the thin, pale man who had held the scroll and quill, told them that the iron was too cold to cauterize the wounds it would make, and that they risked spilling too much of my blood if they tried. I moaned in fear at his words, but the man with the iron moved away out of my sight. A moment later I heard the Torture Master also leave his place by the rack and cross the room. I dared not think what would come next.
As the outlander noisily thrust his iron back into the brazier, adding some pliers and a cats-claw to the heat for good measure, I walked back towards the rack, the measured tread of my boots adding further menace to the sounds of my brutish assistant stoking his coals. The princess craned her head to see me, but I was still too far to be seen, her arms and torso blocking her view. Wanting to prolong the terror of the unknown, I circled to the other side of the rack at a distance, crossing her field of view only as I passed its base. She stared down the length of her tortured body, trying to catch a glimpse of what I carried, but soon I was gone from her sight again. She let her head drop back, defeated, until my footsteps heralded my arrival by the side of the rack, close to her waist. She raised her head again and stared with horror at the hooked knife, meant for stabbing deep into its victim's body, and dragging with it whatever organs it may snag as it is pulled out. I had selected it for its intimidating appearance, however, as I had no intention of opening fatal wounds.
As gently as I could manage, I placed its edge against her hip, and, inch by painstaking inch, I moved it slowly down the length of her leg trying only to split the fabric of her dress and not cut the pale skin underneath. I wanted her to imagine me slowly slicing through layer after layer - first her clothes, then her skin, then her flesh underneath that. Her whimpers grew in urgency as I approached her ankles, fearing what was to come once the fabric was spent, and she moaned desperately as I sliced through the hem of her dress. The scribe stared, wide eyed, at the sight of such flesh exposed, for her dress was now split in the manner of the most brazen whores, and the length of her smooth leg, decorated here and there with beads of ruby blood where my knife had cut deeper than I had intended, was exposed. I shot him a warning glance, but it proved needless. The last time he had expressed admiration for the form we worked upon, I had the outlander hold him upside-down above the barrel of brackish water we keep to revive prisoners as a reminder to hold his lounge, and the lesson had been well learned.
As the outlander returned, satisfied with the coals and the implements heating within, I turned to the princess's foot, my attention caught my her flexing toes. As a victim of the rack could move no other part of their body, their fingers and toes were often moved thus, their only means of expressing their desperate desire for movement. The idea of cutting them off briefly crossed my mind, but the flow of blood would be tiresome to staunch. Instead I carved thin red lines around the largest toe, and, as blood began to drip down her foot traced similar lines towards her ankle, letting the princess imagine the pain of having a toe sliced from her, even as she shrieked and bellowed from the assault on such a sensitive part of her body. Lifting the knife over the thick ropes around her ankle, I traced, every bit as slowly as I had before, a line back up her leg, thin red trickles decorating the shapely limb as blood seeped out from the cut. She wailed, now both in pain and fear, for when I had ended this assault on her leg, where would I take the knife?
The outlander ginned approvingly, glad to see an injury, even as slight as this one, inflicted at last, for he considered dripping blood to be an important aspect of torture, as it symbolized well the slow loss of life that awaited the subject, save only confession or co-operation. I didn't always agree, but I doubted it would do harm in this case. I again strode halfway around the rack, until I came to the arm opposite the leg I had just affected. The princess shrunk as she felt pressure through the silk covering her shoulder, and moaned as it traced its way up her arm, but it was my gloved fingers, not the blade that she felt. I almost laughed, pleased that the terror she felt turned even my touch to torture, and for a brief moment I saw anger replace fear and pain on her features, rage that I would toy with her such, and resolve not to break under my ministrations. As I watched, she took a breath and braced herself for the blade on her arm, so I again tormented her with the unexpected, by moving the rack's wheel two more notches.
The Princess's eyes bulged, as the creak of the racks ropes was met with the sounds of joints distorting from within the princess. She was swept with physical and mental torment. The stretching alone was terrible, breath now almost impossible to come by, wave after wave of agony washing from her shoulders, the nerves of her spine alive with dancing bundles of pain, even the stronger hip joints protesting under such treatment. But that was not all that assailed her, for now I had changed the rules. Always before the motion of the rack had been predictable, a click, a pause, another click, with an almost predictable increase in agony each time. That was often a comfort to prisoners, for the racks agony never receded, unlike the burn of the iron or the sting of the knife, but its predictability made it almost bearable.
I watched the princess with interest, for now many prisoners would break. The destruction of the last crutch of predictability was a telling blow, but another wind of the rack would steal her breath completely, and she would have no choice but to suffer what I chose to inflict upon her until I wound it back to allow her to breathe and speak.
She begged and pleaded, words gasped out between breathy little pants, but still she offered nothing. I was impressed, though not amazed, and pondered briefly how much the endless repetition of questions by the scribe affected the breaking of prisoners.
Another turn of the wheel, and the prisoner's babbling was cut off, her tortured rib-cage now stretched too far to give her breath. This stage of a prolonged racking was one of ever more dreadful repetition. It was possible to go much further before the injuries inflicted by the rack became fatal, but the torture must work swiftly to inflict this while the victim is still conscious, and once the end point is reached there is nowhere else to go. Instead, I prefer to hold the prisoner at a lesser degree of agony until they begin to swoon, then release them to a level where they may breathe again, before tightening the rack still further.
I watched the princess, her mouth opening and closing as she fought for breath that would not come, until her eyes began to close, then released the rack several notches. She drew in as deep a breath as she could manage, and stared at me with an expression of astonished gratitude, only for it to crumble into despair as I began to wind the rack back up. Before she could gabble out a sentence, I had drawn her tight enough to end what she was saying, whether it was information or more pleading, I knew or cared not.
This time I drew her a slow two notches beyond the point that cut off her breath, and the sounds that came from her body under such strain must have been terrible to her ears. Again the sounds of bone on bone grated, sharp cracks sounded in her knees and elbows, and a faint wet tearing sound heralded the defeat of some minor tendon in the unequal battle with the rack. Though the princess could not speak, her expression told volumes, and she shook her head back and forth in agony.
I let the princess swoon to full unconsciousness this time, and as she lay there, I let off the tension of the rack to the point where I would have to draw in some rope even to pain her, for I wished to wake her with the sound of the ratchet as the torture began again.
As she lay unconscious, the outlander expressed his impatience, and wish to use the re-heated irons, and I assured him that his time would come soon, and we both bent close to her prone form, looking for the first signs of her rise to wakefulness.
I heard the rustle and soft scraping sound of metal being placed amongst other hard objects, and knew it could only be the iron being pushed into the glowing coals to heat it up again. My breath quickened again, and my chest rose and fell even more as I heard the steady footfalls of some approaching the rack once more.
I lifted my head as far from the surface of the rack as I was able, trying to see what new torment was about to be inflicted on me. My outstretched arms heaving breasts obscured my view, and all I could hear were the footsteps. Then I saw him - it was the Torture Master, walking slow round the foot of the rack. I caught a glimpse of something metal and gleaming in his hand, but although I strained to raise my head further, he was soon out of sight again. I realized I'd been holding my breath, and let out slowly as I sank my head back down onto the rack.
Suddenly the sound of boots was closer, and I lifted my head again. The Torture Master was close beside me now, halfway down the rack. Now I saw what it was he carried - a long-bladed knife, tapering to a vicious hook at its tip. It glinted in the torch-light, and all I could picture in my mind now was it being thrust into my stomach, twisted, then slowly drawn out, tearing out my insides as it did so. I wanted to cry again, but instead of being raised to plunge home, it disappeared from my sight again as the Torture Master bent closer over my helpless form.
Before I could begin to imagine what was to come, I felt a gentle pressure at my right hip, then a sharp stab of pain as the pressure increased, and the knife passed through the thin silk and into my flesh. It was little more than a scratch, but the sensation of being stretched out like this while a knife was pressed against my flesh made it seem far worse than it was. Although the pressure from the knife lessened the moment it broke my skin, it still didn't go completely. Instead, I felt it move very, very slowly down my leg, the fabric of my dress parting with hardly a sound. Again I felt the blade cut me, but like before it was only for an instant. I began to whimper as I tried not to think what terrible new torture I was being so delicately prepared for. Again the knife pricked me, and again and again as it made its slow, steady way down towards my feet. Any moment now he would be done, and I would be ready for more pain. I felt the blade tug at my dress as it sliced through the thicker hem, and my terrified whimpering turned into soft moans as I desperately tried to remain calm.
There was a pause, and I lay there waiting for the agony I knew must follow. What I feared most now was the slow stripping of my skin: a gradual flaying of my whole body as I was stretched out helpless on the rack. He would slice me as slowly and gently as he had opened my dress. I felt sick at the thought, but there was nothing I could do to escape. In spite of this, I still flexed my fingers and toes, just to be able to move any part of my body rather than any serious attempt to get free.
This must have caught the Torture Master's attention, for a moment later he moved down the rack, and I felt his gloved hand gently but firmly take hold of my right foot.
I froze, then felt the sharp edge of the blade sink into the flesh just below the largest toe on the foot, and I let out a thin, high wail of pain and terror. Now the blade was being worked round the base of the toe, and I realized that he must be intending to remove my toe completely. My cry increased in volume at this thought, but he had my foot in too tight a grasp for me to prevent any kind of mutilation. I couldn't bare the thought, and started screaming in utter desperation. So terrified was I that I barely noticed the fact that he had ceased to cut around my toe, until I felt the knife begin to slide slowly down my foot towards my ankle several times, leaving thin red lines of pain in its wake. Tears were in my eyes again, but now my tormentor had moved, and a fresh cut pierced the skin at my right ankle. Now he was retracing the slash he had made in my dress, but now there was no fabric to part, only my soft skin. I wailed again, wondering where on earth this torture with the knife would end. So far he had only cut one toe and part of one foot, as well as making this new cut on my leg. There was still so much of my body yet to feel the blade's delicate bite.
The pain suddenly lessened, and I realized that he had ceased to mark my leg. I felt the warm wetness of blood the whole length of the cut, from my ankle to my hip. The Torture Master straightened, and moved round the base of the rack. I didn't try and follow his progress this time - I simply lay back gasping, wondering where the next cut would be made. I didn't have to wait long for the answer. I cringed as I felt something press against the flesh at my left shoulder, and another moan escaped my lips as I felt the pressure inch slowly up my outstretched arm. It took me a several moments to realize that it was too blunt to be a blade. I opened my eyes, and saw the Torture Master gently running his fingers along my arm. I caught his gaze, and it seemed to me that he almost laughed at my terror. I felt a rush of anger overcome me: that I was stretched out on the rack at his mercy was bad enough, but to have him make my ordeal into some kind of game for his own private enjoyment made me forget my suffering for a moment. I could not bear the thought of how he would stand over me gloating as I gasped out every last secret he demanded - it was too much. I swore to myself that I would not let myself be broken by him, that no matter what he did, I wouldn't give him the satisfaction of such a victory. I knew the blade was mere moments away from opening a fresh scarlet line along my arm, but I closed my eyes again, taking in a deep breath and waiting, trying to brace myself for the pain.
There was a pause, followed by further footsteps. Suddenly the wheel at the head of the rack creaked into life, and pain exploded the length of my body. My eyes flew open, and all I could do at first was to gasp for breath as agony flared all along my spine, and blazed in my shoulders and hips, elbows and knees as the ropes sunk still further into the flesh at my wrists and ankles. The torment of the knife had been so much that I had almost ceased to feel the extent of the pain the rack had been causing me. Until now, that is. Before I had been able to anticipate it, and steady myself for each turn of the wheel. But they way this fresh turn had come, the way the wheel had been turned so sharply, brought an agony far beyond anything else I had so far experienced. I almost felt I could endure those almost gentle increases in the tension of my body, but this was something else completely.
Now I found my voice, and in between the strained gasps as I fought for breath, I pleaded with them to stop. It never crossed my mind to try and bargain for a little relief with whatever information they wanted. The pain was too great to even think properly.
The I heard the wheel creak again, and now I thought I was dying. The pain increased, and now I could not even draw air into my lungs. I opened and closed my mouth, but no sound would come. With horror, I realized that I did not have enough breath to even beg then for mercy. My head was spinning, and little lights were dancing in front of my eyes. Everything seemed to be growing fainter, and I felt blackness ready to engulf me.
I heard the rack click again, several times, but now the pain was easing. It took me a moment to understand what had happened - they had actually loosened the ropes a little. I was still stretched out and in pain, but now I could breathe again. I gulped in air, scarcely able to believe it. I couldn't understand - had they really taken pity on me? I twisted my head round, and looked up in amazement, along my right arm towards the top of the rack, where the Torture Master stood with his gloved hands still on the wheel. But any hope of mercy was swiftly ended. Even as I looked at him, I saw him crank the wheel again.
I tried to scream out a desperate plea, but I was drawn out again so that in an instant I was struggling for breath once more. And then the wheel clicked slowly again. And again. The agony surged through my whole body, greater than before. I could hear the sound of my joints grating and straining, cracking under the massive force that was slowly pulling me apart: but as hideous as that was, it was still nothing compared to the pain I actually felt. I thought my left thigh had been cut again with the knife, until I realized it was one of the muscles there that had been unable to withstand the terrible pull of the ropes.
I couldn't speak - no breath would come. My head swung from side to side, purely a reflex, as such movement did nothing to relieve my agony. I felt the blackness closing in again, and this time there was no release of the tension in the ropes. I briefly wondered if I was dying or just fainting, but before I could think any more, darkness swept over me.
The princess began the fitful rise from sleep, and I took hold of the wheel again. The click of the ratchet and the inexorable rise of her arms towards the top of the rack saw her eyes flutter open, and she glanced around, momentarily disorientated. Whether her torment had continued into slumber as nightmares, or she had found reprieve in dreams of a pleasant nature, it was clear that for a few brief moments her situation was unclear to her. Then realization struck, and she screamed as she realized that the torture had restarted, and even if she endured again all that she had before, there would be more to come.
I stretched her with even greater care than I had before, not only to prolong the agony but with deference to the punishment her joints had already suffered. Though she seemed robust, I did not want to risk a weak joint dislocating at this stage, and limit the torture that I could apply. Under my watchful eye, her body once again began to transform under the rack's influence. Her thin body was made more slender yet, her waist seemingly reaching an impossibly small size. The slick of sweat over her body had turned her white dress almost transparent in places, and it clung to her body, drawn tight by her own lengthening over her breasts and hips, and I heard the hiss of an indrawn breath as the scribe once again was struck by her comeliness.
I held her at a point where she may still breathe and scream, and ignoring her babblings, I asked the outlander to bring his iron again. He takes it by the leather wrapped handle, and such is the heat of the iron that even this has begun to smoke. He brought it to the side of the rack, as before, holding it so the victim may see it before lowering it to her body. She begged him not to burn her, but her pleas fell on deaf ears, as without any of the games of earlier he placed its glowing tip on her sternum. I winced as her screams assaulted my ears, and was briefly tempted to stretch her further to again halt her breathing. However, this was the outlanders moment, and I did not wish to interrupt, so I let her bellow.
The outlander drew the iron down across her belly in a slow S shape as the prisoner howled. He then lifted the iron again, and waited for her words to gain some form of coherence. Then with menacing slowness, he brought it close to her breasts. He listened to her frantic pleas with feigned interest, then motioned for me to wind the rack on and silence her. This startled me, and for an irrational moment I was loathe to take orders from my assistant, but saner thoughts prevailed, and I did as he requested. The princess stared at him open mouthed for a moment, shocked even by this petty betrayal, and before she could even adapt to the new tension of the rack, the outlander brought the iron down to her sensitive nipple. Her eyes bulged at this new pain, and her head thrashed for a few moments, before rolling back on her shoulders as again she fainted. Neither the outlander nor I wanted to allow her rest however, so even as I released the tension a little, he strode swiftly to the water barrel, and drew a bucket to revive her.
I don't know what it was that woke me. I couldn't remember a thing. There was some brief memory of lying in a sea of fire that burned me, but that may have been a dream. My body felt strange - as if I had no control over my limbs anymore. I was confused. Was I asleep or awake? I felt my arms moving, straightening and extending, to the sound of a slow, steady clicking sound. My eyes opened, and I found myself staring at a stone ceiling above me. I was lying on something hard, like a wooden table. My arms and legs were stretched out - and when I tried to move them to a more comfortable position, they would not respond. They seemed to be tied at the wrists and ankles, and now pain was beginning to flood back into my joints. I tried to clear my head, to understand what was happening. I glanced from left to right, and then memory came flooding back. I saw the hulking man with the missing teeth, heating a new iron in the brazier of glowing coals. I saw the pale, thin man watching me intently. I heard the click of the wheel at the head of the rack, and the creaking of the ropes. I screamed in terror. It was no dream - this was truly happening to me.
The tension in my body was growing with each notch the wheel was turned. At first I couldn't do anything but scream with every new wave of pain that washed through my joints. Surely they couldn't take much more of this? My muscles already felt as if they were on fire. But there seemed no end to it - I was only suffering what I had suffered before - this was just a re-stretching to the state I was in before I passed out, not a new level of agony. That was still to come. The thought made me want to weep, for pain was now the only thing that seemed to define my existence. When I swooned, there was relief, but no memory of that relief. Every waking moment was now filled with blazing anguish.
I continued to scream as the wheels relentless progress wound on. I felt myself getting short of breath again, and my cries became strained gasps as my form was slowly extended ever further in opposite directions. I could feel my garments, damp with sweat, draping themselves over my ever curve and contour. Normally I would have been concerned by what sort of effect this could have on my tormentors, but the pain I was in was so severe that I did not even care how they viewed my helpless, outstretched body. It took me a moment to realize that the Torture Master had halted his work with the wheel. I was still gasping in agony, but at least the pain was not getting any worse. But every time they ceased to rack me, they always applied some new form of punishment to my body. I began to utter half-coherent pleas for mercy, but they gave no indication they had even heard me. The Torture Master called out some instruction, and the heavy tread of boots approached the rack where I lay.
The man from the brazier came into view, and in his hand was another iron, glowing almost white from the heat. I could think of nothing to say to make him stop the inevitable branding I knew was to come, but I could not control myself, and a flood of words tumbled from my mouth. "Please! No! Don't! Don't! I'm begging you! Don't! No!" My cries were cut off as he pressed the iron down. I smelt the stench of burning silk and flesh an instant before a searing, sickening burst of pain exploded across my tightly stretched stomach. I howled, waiting for the iron to be removed. But in place of the usual short press, then withdrawal, the scorching tip began to inch its way slowly across and down my taut skin. My wails grew even louder at the thought of where it might finally stop, but my fears were unjustified - for now.
The pressure of the iron disappeared, and the pain lessened from a blinding intensity to a still-agonizing pulsing throb. I was at last able to gather myself a little, and my screams died away. I gulped in what air I could. The iron was still glowing hot in the gap-toothed man's hand, and now he moved it up my body, towards the twin swellings of my chest. He had toyed with burning my breasts before, but this time I knew he intended to go through with it. As his hand and its dreadful extension drew slowly closer, I began to yell for mercy again. "No! No! Please! I beg you! Have pity!"
He halted for a moment, seeming to take heed of my pleas, and faint hope leapt in me.
"Don't!" I continued. ”Take it away! Take it away!"
The iron came no closer, though I could feel its heat through the thin fabric of my dress. But then I saw him glance up past me, and gesture to the Torture Master at the head of the rack. There was a moments pause, and then I heard the wheel begin to click again. The pain in my joints rushed to the front of my thoughts again, having been driven away by the terror of the iron. The ropes strained, and my every muscle and joint flared with ever-increasing agony. Now I was at the point again where I could not breathe, and my screams were cut off, replaced instead by scarcely audible gasping whimpers. Now I could not even beg them for mercy, and the glowing tip of darted forward.
My right nipple was the target, pointing stiff and erect away from the bulge of my breast, barely concealed now by the damp, almost transparent silk that clothed it.
The iron touched the very tip, and incredible heat lanced right through me. I could not scream, so tightly extended was my body by the rack, but my head shook from side to side as I sought without hope some form of relief from the searing anguish that pulsed through so sensitive a spot. The iron pressed down slowly, pushing the hard nipple into the soft curve of the breast, spreading the pain even further. I could take no more, but there was nothing I could say or do to end this. The air in my lungs was spent, and as the lights danced in front of my eyes, darkness rushed over me again.
The outlander poured his bucket of water over the princess's face, and she awoke, coughing and spluttering. I swiftly wound the rack back up once more, a brutal racking to the point I had so gradually brought her to earlier. I held her there for a few moments, then lessened the tension so that she may breathe again, and she gasped and panted, more concerned with drawing air into her lungs then screaming. Before she had even partially recovered, I forced the wheel round once more, taking her to greater tension still. Her expression was a mix of terror, bewilderment and of course agony as her thoughts struggled to come to terms with this terrible treatment of her body. Slowly I moved the wheel one more notch, and the princess's eyes widened as the sounds of her body failing penetrated the haze of pain through to her conscious. Each joint was protesting, her shoulders bulging oddly as her arms were almost dragged from their very sockets, and a terrible snap from her elbow could only have been an important tendon giving way, a crippling injury, had she not been fated to die in this chamber.
I held her there for some moments, then released the tension enough to prevent her swooning. I motioned to the outlander to prevent this time being a cessation of torture, and he gleefully began to ply his iron to her body in a series of light, though agonizing, touches. He danced the tip from breast to belly, belly to thigh, and the princess's gasps for breath were interrupted by shriek after shriek.
I stood watching the outlander for a few brief moments, rubbing my arms, sore with exertion, until I noticed the scribe dash up the stairs to the doorway, talk briefly to some near identical looking flunkies, then turn and announce, his thin voice almost entirely inaudible over the prisoner’s shrieks, "The Defender of the Land, Marshal of the Nations, Master of the Seas..." continuing in this manner for several minutes before finishing with "His Majesty, The King." He then looked round as if expecting applause, and was greeted with a prolonged howl as the outlander pressed his iron deep into the soft flesh of the prisoners breasts once more. I pushed past the scribe, and bowed to the king. "Majesty," I said, simply. The king turned his gaze to me, after a prolonged inspection of the princess, and spoke.
"Is she broken yet?" he demanded. I made an uncertain gesture.
"I've not been trying, Majesty. With your permission, I shall do so now." He waved his assent, and I strode back to the rack once more, motioning for the outlander to cease. I watched the princess as she lay there, breasts rising and falling as she breathed, her face wet with tears, and waited for her to gain some measure of awareness of her surroundings. Once she seemed rational, I bent close to her, and, in a low voice, said the first words I'd ever directed to her. "I'm going to stretch you again now."
Her eyes snapped wide open in horror. "No!" she screamed, "I'll tell you what you want, please, please don't!" With that, her words were cut off with a scream, for I wound the rack on again. I held her screaming for a while, then released the tension again. "Please," the princess cried, "Please ask some questions."
With a triumphant smile, I backed off a short way and bowed to the king. An interesting victory, for it won us the ability to inflict the last great torture upon her, that of removing her option of defeat. She had no choice but to die upon the rack, and soon we would share that information with her. But for now, we let her weep and beg for questions to answer.
A great splash of water struck me, waking me from the terrible half-remembered dreams that had filled my unconscious mind. I opened my mouth from the shock, and some of the water splashed inside. It tasted foul, and I coughed and choked on its bitter taste.
My whole body was still aching from what it had so far endured. I scarcely heard the wheel at the head of the rack begin to turn again, but then the pain in my joints began to increase, far more swiftly than before. I opened my mouth to scream, but I was too late - I had already reached the point once again where breathing was impossible. I just lay there in agony, every inch of my body blazing with a suffering I could never have imagined possible, until this terrible night in the dungeons befell me.
But just as my vision began to swim again, I felt a slight easing of the tension, although I was still hideously stretched on the dreadful machine. Air rushed back into my grateful lungs, and I just lay there trying to breathe normally again.
Any hope of that was quickly shattered - I heard the great wheel click round again, and my tortured body was extended still further. Again the ability to scream was denied to me, and I simply lay there helplessly. How was it possible that the human body could endure this much agony? It was beyond words to describe what it felt like. If someone had attempted to explain the feeling to me before tonight, I would have dismissed it as implausible exaggeration. But now I understood just how much suffering could be inflicted without causing death.
The wheel clicked slowly round another notch, and pain exploded in my left elbow. At first I thought that my arm and actually been torn in two, but I could still feel the unbearable strain that ran all along it, so I knew it must still be whole. That left only my muscles as the source of the pain - one of them must have given way under this terrible treatment, and snapped completely. Every joint protested at the tremendous force that the rack was exerting on them. I felt that my whole body would imitate the ruptured muscle in my elbow, and be torn asunder if the wheel was turned any further.
The lights began to dance in front of my eyes again as my breath was exhausted, and now I welcomed the thought of the relief that swooning would bring, even if I had no memory of it. Had I been reduced to this? Welcoming the temporary embrace of unconsciousness as a source of even a little release from the appalling agony that now consumed my every waking moment?
But even that little peace was denied to me - the dreadful pain eased a fraction, and I knew that the wheel must have been unwound a little. My breathing came in short, whimpering moans as I struggled to find some way to try and block out the torment that the rack held my body in.
I suddenly became aware of the big, gap-toothed man at my side again. I only had an instant to see the iron he held in his hand before its glowing tip darted forward towards my right breast again.
I opened my mouth to beg for mercy, but the first words were transformed into a shriek as the instrument scorched through the thin silk several inches below the still aching nipple, and seared the tender flesh.
It wasn't pressed in place for nearly as long as before, and as it was withdrawn, my shriek dissolved into desperate gasps for air - although I could breathe again now, the extent to which I was stretched still made it hard.
Suddenly I felt the pressure of the iron on my stomach, burning a spot it had left untouched before. I shrieked again, desperately wondering how long this new assault by the hulking torturer would last.
Once more the iron was removed after only a few moments, and once more I lay there gulping in what air I could.
Now it struck again, red-hot pain lancing through the flesh on the inside of my right thigh, and my scream of agony filled the chamber. The pressure disappeared, and I thought I heard the sound of footsteps quickly ascending the stairs. Before I could wonder what it signified, another rush of agony seared through the inside of my left thigh, and I howled in pain yet again. This was becoming more than I was capable of enduring.
Now I thought I heard a voice calling out something, but all thoughts of what it was vanished as I felt the scorching bite on the taut skin of my stomach for a third time, and my wail drowned even the sound of the words that were being spoken. How long would this last?
As if in answer to my thought, the man leant across my tortured body, and the iron pressed against the bulging curve of my left breast, again several inches below the nipple that stood out erect from it. My throat was beginning to hurt from the force and frequency of the screams that were being torn from it, but I had little choice as the stench of burning silk and flesh filled my nostrils once again. I could still hear the voice - it seemed to be reciting something from the top of the stairs, but once more it was lost in the shriek that erupted from me as the iron struck home, this time on the outside of my left breast.
The torturer straightened again, and after I had managed one a few more gasps of air, he brought the red hot tip down onto the yielding flesh of the outside of my right breast. When my agonized yell had died away into further strained moans, I saw the grinning man raise the iron with a flourish, and plunge it downwards once more.
It found its mark, touching the very tip of the previously unharmed nipple that stood out from the swelling bulge of my left breast.
Agony greater than before pierced the whole breast and I screamed as if my lungs would burst. And, as he had done with my right nipple, he kept the iron in place, and pressed it gently but firmly downwards, driving the blazing spot of agony that had replaced my nipple slowly into the soft flesh of the breast.
At last the pressure was removed, and the scorching anguish receded a little into a dull throb of pain, pulsing in time to the blood that my pounding heart pumped through my racked body, just as all the other burns did. This time I did not faint - no darkness came to take me away from this, even for a little while.
I tensed, waiting for the next touch of the iron, sick with dread at the thought of where it might strike next: the one obvious place it had left so far unharmed would, if it were applied there, make the agony inflicted on my nipples pale in comparison - I knew that for sure. I screwed my eyes shut, biting my lower lip in trembling anticipation, muffling the pitiful whimpers that were all my exhausted lungs had to give after the shrieks the iron had wrung from them.
But the dreaded touch didn't come.
As before, the torment the blazing metal had inflicted upon me had somewhat dulled the anguish the rack still held my body in. But now I began to feel it again, and moaned helplessly, my entire body drenched in sweat, stinging the burns and cuts that now marked my once pristine flesh. The thin white silk of my dress was soaked through, fitting me in many places almost like a second skin. I had reached a stage where I found it almost impossible to remember life without this constant torture - this was almost the only reality I could recall. Tears began to fill my eyes, and leaked out from beneath the lids, trickling down my cheeks.
I felt someone's breath close to my face, and a low voice murmured in my right ear. "I'm going to stretch you again now".
My eyes flew open in terror. At those words, something gave way inside me. All thoughts of defying my enemies, of resisting whatever they did to me, of keeping hidden the details about the remnants of my army, of everything - all that disappeared at the words of the Torture Master. I'd do anything to make this stop. Anything. I wasn't even able to think coherently - the only concrete thought in my head was to be released from the terrible agony of the rack, and all the accompanying torments, whatever the consequences.
"No!" I screamed desperately. "I'll tell you what you want! Please! Please don't!"
But he had already moved away towards the top of the rack, and to my horror I heard the wheel creak round once more. Now the pain was everything again, overriding all else. I wanted to plead for mercy, to beg them to ask me questions - whatever they wanted to ask, I'd answer it now, and gladly. I realized that I'd given up, that I'd surrendered - but I no longer cared. Nothing in the world could be more terrible than the torture the rack was now inflicting on my helpless body. I wanted to talk, but the urge to scream, as a way of somehow making the agony less, futile thought I knew such an idea was, filled me, and all I could do was lie there, my shrieks echoing round the chamber.
At last the tension was lessened again - after how long, I didn't know - but it took several moments for my cries to die down into broken sobs.
"Please!" I gasped tearfully. "Please ask some questions!"
There was no reply, and I continued to weep. I had lost. I knew it - but I didn't care. I now knew how expert these men were. They could keep me in this state for hours more: days, even. Or weeks. Or longer. There really was no limit, only the durability of my body. But with care, and enough periods of rest, they could torture me indefinitely. I'd have to tell them everything eventually, so why suffer any more than I had to? I lay there panting, desperately hoping to hear the first question from the Torture Master's lips.
The king nodded, and, having gained the measure of the princess, left, all interest in the matter gone. Now no part of my role was inquisitor, I was entirely executioner. The princess and I had played an amusing game, but now there was only one last move before it ended, and I resolved to play it soon.
Once more, I put my hands to the rack wheel, and gradually increased the tension. The princess looked to me though teary eyes as she felt the rack's motion, and pleaded with me again to ask questions. I remained impassive, and she cast her gaze around, to the outlander then the scribe, searching desperately for someone who would interrogate her. Neither made any motion to do so, and confusion mixed with agony on her face as she struggled to understand why the torture continued. Slowly I maintained the motion of the rack, and her pleas became increasingly shrill as she was racked ever tighter. Again, the tension in her body grew until her muscles and ribs where obvious to all under her sweat-drenched dress, but I continued the torture. Her shrieks grew breathy, then failed altogether as the strain grew beyond the point where her lungs could still draw breath, but without pause I continued still.
I listened to the sounds of her body being torn apart as I slowly forced the wheel still further, the creaks of her tendons and the grate of bone on bone joined by cracks as fused vertebrae began to separate, but I was not done yet. With one last motion of the wheel, I finally broke the princess in a much more literal manner than my earlier victory. With a double bang, both her shoulders finally dislocated, her arms growing by inches. Her eyes bulged almost from their sockets at this unimaginable torment, and her mouth worked with soundless screams. I held her there as long as I could, the outlander bringing her out of an early swoon with a second pail of water, until I released her so that she may breathe once again. She lay screaming for a long while, even the comparatively gentle tension in the rack made unbearable by her ruined shoulders. As she began to recover, she once again begged us for questions to answer. I wound the wheel on a little way, forcing a shriek from the princess, and then bent close to her, and spoke to her for a second time, the last words she would hear from another person. "There are no questions. Your army is smashed, your cities razed, your country defeated. You are here to die."
The tears were rolling down my cheeks, but still no questions came. Then once more I heard the dreadful sound of the wheel beginning to creak, and the pain grew in my tortured body. In spite of the agonizing pangs it caused, I twisted my head to look up along the length of my outstretched right arm, towards the top of the rack, and the Torture Master who stood there with his hands upon the wheel.
Somehow I thought that if I could look him in the eye, My pleas might have more effect.
"No!" I sobbed. "No! Please ask me something! I'll tell you whatever you want to know!"
He didn't reply, and I desperately turned my gaze elsewhere. I saw the big, broken-toothed man standing close by - but I saw no sign of any question upon his lips, just a satisfied smile as he looked up and down my sweat drenched body that was stretched out in anguish before him. I looked to the other side, but the pale, thin man that stood there gave no indication that he was aware of my gaze - his eyes were fixed on the twin bulges of my breasts, heaving within the confines of my dress as I fought for breath.
Then I heard the rack wound another notch, and I wailed as the pain increased along my whole length.
"Mercy!" I cried. "I'll talk! I'll talk!"
The only answer was another click of the wheel, and I shrieked again.
"I give in! Please! I surrender! I'll tell you everything!"
The noise of the ratchet came again, and my body was washed by another wave of agony.
"I'll do anything!" I screamed. "I will! Please! Stop it!"
I was almost at the stage again where I was unable to breathe. The wheel was cranked another fraction, and I howled in anguish, but the lack of air in my lungs cut it off to a strangled choke.
"Please!" I sobbed. "Please!"
My gasps for air were cut off completely by the next turn of the wheel. Through the sea of pain that flooded every part of me, I was aware of my lungs emptying.
"Please!" I wept once more time.
But the wheel creaked relentlessly on. My muscles were strained now to the very limit they could go to, and at the next turn of the wheel, incredible pain exploded all along my spine as some bone within it cracked under the terrible pressure. Another followed with the next increase in tension, but I had no air left to give voice to what I was now feeling.
Again I was extended, more cracks and pops sounding from within me, my every joint and tendon consumed with scarcely conceivable agony. But that was nothing compared to what happened next.
The wheel creaked, and I thought my arms had been torn off. Two loud cracks - and my shoulders were ripped apart. I couldn't make a sound - I just lay there, my eyes staring at the rough stone ceiling above me, my mouth opening and shutting, an instinctive reflex to what was happening, as I experienced a suffering that was beyond words to describe.
Through the haze of overwhelming torment, I was dimly aware of muscles, skin and flesh still connecting my arms to my torso, and I realized that my shoulders had been dislocated, not sundered completely.
But the air in my lungs was spent, and blackness washed over me, bringing release from the nightmare of the rack.
A great splash of water broke over me once more, and I awoke to agony again. How long I had been spared from that agony, I had no idea. It did not seem to be long. The bitter tasting water filled my open mouth, but I didn't have the breath to force it out. Then I felt the air rush back into my lungs, and the moment I had coughed out the liquid, I let out one long wail as felt the full extent of the agony that filled me. When that scream was exhausted, I simply took in another great gulp of air and screamed again. I was stretched only a little way compared to before - but my ruined joints and ripped muscles made any tension at all beyond my ability to endure.
I could not understand what was happening. I had begged them for mercy - offered to tell them anything and everything, but still they had drawn me out tighter and tighter. I'd admitted defeat to them, surrendered completely, but that had not save me from the unceasing click of that dreadful wheel. Finally my screams began to subside into gasping sobs, and then tearful whimpering.
"Please! Please!" I wept. " What do you want to know! There's nothing I won't tell you! Nothing! Please! Just ask me a question! I beg you!"
There was no reply. Then the wheel clicked again.
As I shrieked from the pain this caused in my broken shoulders and tortured joints, I was aware of the Torture Master's face bending close to mine. Was this where the questioning would start?
But then he spoke as my scream died away.
"There are no questions. Your army is smashed, your cities razed, your country defeated. You are here to die."
The princess's reaction was amazing to behold. At first she just gazed at me, incomprehension writ large across her face, but as she slowly realized that I was to rack her to death, she began to panic. She thrashed around as much as she was able, putting terrible strain on her dislocated shoulders, all the while begging and pleading with us to release her. The outlander simply grinned at her, and I remained impassive: The scribe was too far gone in admiring her body to even notice. As pleas failed to move us, she tried bribery, offering to tell us the location of her father's treasuries, if only we would free her. This raised a small smile from me, for I found it hard to imagine how the treasuries could have gone unlooted in the sacking of her country. Then, in final desperation, she tried to sell her last commodity, her body.
The scribe caught his breath as he realized what she was saying, and the outlander bunched his shoulders and stood conspicuously by the water barrel as a reminder of his last transgression. At first hesitantly, and then with greater and greater vulgarity as she saw we were unmoved, she offered all manner of carnal pleasures for us in exchange for a cessation of the torture. She looked hopeful, for I had for a moment been caught up in thought - not pondering her request, as she believed, but instead contemplating if she would knife me or simply run if I did release her. I did not relish the thought of either, though, and simply returned to the wheel of the rack. Her face fell as she realized that her pleading had been all for naught, yet she begged us all again, even as I began the rack's motion once more. Slowly I turned the wheel, and the tension built in her ruined arms, sending her into a fit of dreadful shrieks. The outlander, walking to the brazier he had set his tools in earlier, lifted out the cats-claw and looked at me inquiringly. I nodded my assent.
Taking the instrument by its wooden handle, he returned to the princess, and held it in front of her so that she may know what was coming. She had her eyes held tight shut against the ever more agonizing pain I was inflicting with the rack though, and she saw it not. Muttering his irritation, he set its five cherry red prongs to the skin of her left side, and brought it down her body with a swift motion, carving shallow furrows of charred flesh into her. Her eyes snapped wide, and she bellowed in agony at this, straining her neck to see what device was being so ungently applied to her form. She let her head fall back, panting, all breath spent on shrieking as the outlander finished his stroke, only to shriek again in new agony as I twisted the rack suddenly. The sudden application of tension to her shoulders must have been almost beyond bearing, for her eyes went feral and for a time there was a look of madness on her face.
The look cleared though, and the outlander and I began to work together in cruel tandem, for he placed the cats-claw low on her leg, and dragged it, inch by painstaking inch towards her body, matched only in slowness by my hands upon the wheel. The princess wept, from both the pain and the fear of the burning metal as it crept ever closer to the place between her legs. We had patience and steady hands, and were able to keep this up for more than a minute before the princess began to feel the heat on her most sensitive of places. With remarkable endurance, she managed, for a moment, to put aside the pain of the burns along her leg and the tension of the rack, and gabble out one last plea to the outlander. Without even meeting her eye, he ignored her, and brought the cats-claw in for a last bite of her flesh.
There was an unpleasant sizzle, and the princess's entire body spasmed, doing terrible damage to her dislocated joints. She screamed loud enough to deafen us, and flung her head back and forth. This assault on her womanhood was more than she could ever have imagined, even while suffering lesser torments under our hands. At length the outlander withdrew the claw, and smiled grimly, for he knew as I did that this was almost played out, and that a single action was all that remained between the princess and death. With one slow motion, I drew the rack to the last point where the princess could still draw breath. Leaning in close, I gently brushed her hair from her forehead, almost as a parent settling a restless child into bed. "Goodbye," I mouthed silently, listening to her final pleas gasped out between short breaths dragged into her stretched lungs. Then I turned to the wheel for the last time.
Slowly I stretched the princess, watching for the last time the transformation the rack worked on her body. Once again, she became impossibly sylph like, as torso and limbs lengthened. The tattered remnants of her dress clung to her body, so drenched in sweat that it concealed her not at all. And still I turned the wheel. Slowly the tension built, past the point where her arms had failed, and the sounds of flesh and tendons tearing were audible to all. Then, with a sound like the ripping of silk, her diaphragm parted under the strain. Now she would never draw breath again, if I was of a mind to release the tension. A few more notches of the rack, and sharp cracks in her knees told of new damage there. One last turn, all I could do and not risk sundering her body all together, and a final deep ripping sound from her back signaled some dislocation within her spine.
I held her there, and for almost another minute she remained with us, mind filled with unknowable pain, and then, eyes rolling back in her head, she sank into a swoon from which no pail of water could revive her, and died.